FE's chance to expand

July 25, 1997

FURTHER education has been offered the chance to expand as Dearing recommends that higher education concentrate on funding sub-degree qualifications in colleges.

Dearing has recommended a potentially radical shift in funding towards further education colleges, which would provide sub-degree qualifications such as Higher National Diplomas and Higher National Certificates.

The report envisages that much of the future expansion of higher education will be at the sub-degree level, which should be developed as a "special mission" for colleges. It rules out more further education degree courses.

Dearing recommends that, in the medium term, further education colleges should get priority in sub-degree provision and that this should be funded directly by higher education (Rec 67).

But it is commonly thought that few further education colleges would be in a position to offer HND, HNC and BTEC courses, which tend to require large workshop areas and expensive equipment. Colleges, forced by huge funding cuts to use space in the most economical way, have given over workshops suitable for HNDs to popular courses.

Dearing's solution is collaboration and franchising between higher and further education institutions.

Universities, many of which excelled as polytechnics in providing sub-degree qualifications, could franchise such provision to local colleges which would be able to use the university's facilities.

The report is careful, however, to spell out its concerns about franchising. Multiple franchising, where a college engages with more than one university, and serial franchising, where colleges then franchise courses and funds to an external contractor, present potential quality assurance problems. Dearing favours limits on franchising within a framework to be established by the Quality Assurance Agency.

The funding bodies and research councils are called on to ensure that they do not discourage collaboration (Rec 68 and 69). Money should be set aside to support collaboration. The Quality Assurance Agency is urged not to discourage collaboration.

To preserve quality the report says that, in the medium term, the current criteria for university status should remain (Rec 63).

There should also be a period of relative stability in the numbers of universities.

The ivory towers are further protected by a call for an end to the confusion surrounding the use of the word "university" in institutional titles (Rec 62). Public funds could be withdrawn from those institutions calling themselves universities which have no legal entitlement to do so.

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